It’s often said that the past is never really finished with us. This truth can be especially powerful when it comes to our intimate relationships.

Could the partner who was unfaithful to you years ago be affecting your ability to trust the partner you’re with now? Do memories of your parents’ relationship have an influence on the way you manage the relationship you’re currently in?

The short answer to these questions is yes. When we experience pain in early relationships, the effects stay with us. This is especially true for anyone who has experienced serious trauma such as infidelity, physical or emotional abuse, addiction or financial instability. But whatever the magnitude your past troubles, don’t dismiss their ability to affect you in the present.


There are many ways to understand how the past enters the present. Marriage and couples therapists often use the term projection when referring to this phenomenon. The unresolved pain we feel is demanding our attention by returning to us, where we can feel it again and take action.

Unfortunately, this pattern may prompt us to return to old relationship habits that don’t serve us well in the present. Most of us have listened to a frustrated friend wondering out loud, “Why do I keep dating the same type of man (or woman) over and over again?” It may be clear to us that old relationship business is presenting itself, begging for our friend to pay attention and make changes that will lead to healthier ways of relating.


Because projection often happens at an unconscious level, self-awareness is needed to overcome it. You will also need to be willing to explore the patterns of past relationships in detail to see where the hurt is coming from – and create ways to react differently when issues come up with your current partner.

A good starting place is to look for places and times you tend to overreact to your spouse or partner. Think about the last time you became really angry or tearful or resentful about something your partner did. Can you say that your reaction was reasonable, given what was actually happening at the moment?

A caring, unbiased friend may be able to help you examine your behavior. Does the size of the reaction fit the size of the incident – or did you blow your top when in reality, the problem at hand was really pretty small?

If you find that you are frequently overreacting to things your spouse or partner does, it’s possible that you are dealing with ghosts from past relationships, trying to right wrongs that are long gone from your life. In the end, this isn’t fair to your partner – and can create serious conflict in your current relationship.


The past does have the power to disrupt your current marriage – but only if you allow it to happen. The good news is that strong, secure marriages are a great environment in which to learn about the past and build the strength needed to overcome any lingering pain or fear that you’re carrying with you.

Consider the case of a woman who rejects herself after dating someone who constantly criticizes her body. She is likely to project these feelings onto the next partner she meets, expecting her new lover to hate her body as well. But if she finds a new partner who accepts and celebrates her body just as it is, her past hurt can be healed.

There are many ways of coming to terms with the relational pain of the past. If we devote ourselves to understanding what happened back then, we can be more present to the person who is trying to offer us love and attention right now.


Do you find yourself struggling with the ghosts of past relationships? Are you afraid that your current marriage will falter if you don’t find a way to deal with the pain you’ve felt before?

As a professional couples therapist with decades of experience, Janae Munday, LCSW, has helped hundreds of Phoenix-area couples deal with past relationship trauma. Together, you CAN build a stronger, more loving relationship to enjoy today. To schedule a confidential appointment with Janae, give her a call today.